On Aug. 31, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Howard University and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor held a hybrid briefing and panel discussion at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C., in commemoration of the second International Day for People of African Descent and to discuss the critical role of racial equity and justice in U.S. foreign policy.
The events called attention to the recently formed United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD), a 10-member advisory body established in Aug. 2021 that works closely with the UN Human Rights Council, and convened a panel of experts to discuss international efforts to protect and advance the human rights of African descendants worldwide.
The briefing’s speakers included U.S. Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Gregory Meeks (NY-5), the Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice Desirée Cormier Smith and Howard University law professor and Howard alumnus Justin Hansford.
“This is the time for all of us to unite and for the United States to show its commitment – indeed, its leadership – in making sure that justice, equality, equity, and inclusion are everywhere you find individuals of African descent,” Meeks said.
Furthermore, when asked about how people of color shape U.S. foreign policy in terms of staff demographics as well as influencing strategic policy activity, Meeks cited the growing, but low number of policymakers of African heritage.
“Number one, there’s not enough policymakers of African descent. I’m the first chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that is of African descent in the history of this country,” Meeks said.
In 2021, Hansford was elected by the UN General Assembly as the U.S. candidate for the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent for the inaugural 2022-2024 term.
“The sky’s the limit for the Forum and there’s many things we could do in terms of international economics. I’m advocating for Black people in the U.S. to understand the necessity for Black internationalism. We are advancing the human rights of Black people throughout the diaspora, whether they are in Haiti, Brazil, or on the African continent,” Hansford said.
Hansford plans to create ways for Howard students and other members of American civil society to contribute to the work of the UN-PFPAD. “There are many international spheres of power that determine world affairs, however, there are also many people and groups within society that also have great influence such as communities, churches, universities, and local governments,” Hansford said.
“Some of my students will assist the Forum by working with grassroots organizations in U.S. cities with substantial Black populations to measure where Black Americans are in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Students will put together a report or a podcast to share their findings with the public,” he continued.
The briefing was followed by a panel discussion that included Smith and Hansford, as well as Dorothy Davis, Dr. Amara Enyia and Zakiya Carr Johnson, each of whom are trailblazers that are making substantial contributions to global affairs.
Dr. Enyia is a strategist, public policy expert and social impact expert on city and state policy and international affairs, and currently serves as chairwoman of the International Working Group for the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent (IWG-PFPAD).
“The Working Group consists of people around the world who are dedicated to making the Permanent Forum impactful, raising local and international awareness of the Forum’s progress, and creating opportunities to engage civil society and have grassroots stakeholders provide their input,” Enyia said.
“When I say ‘reparations’, people often think of the compensation component, but at the global level, we’re talking about a fundamental reshaping of the world order. The perpetual dehumanization, mass incarceration, and state violence are designed to ensure that Black people remain subhuman and are used to create profit for the state. More importantly, you can be Black and contribute to this existing world order,” Enyia said.
“The Permanent Forum is a mechanism that allows us to come together to develop a collective strategy based on the challenges we identified, and advance those aims internationally as well as within our own spheres,” she continued.
In their remarks, speakers discussed the importance of the UN recognizing 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, the need for implementing foreign and domestic public policy that combats systemic racism, discrimination and xenophobia around the world, how the remnants of historical structural barriers and injustices such as colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade impact contemporary society.
“Today is not only a day of solemn acknowledgment of past and ongoing injustices and a reminder that we still have so much work left to do; it is also a day of celebration. On Aug. 31st, we encourage all nations to come together to acknowledge and commemorate the indispensable contributions of Africans and people of African descent around the world,” Smith said. “Despite the injustices inflicted upon us, people of African descent have always had a global impact on human civilization,” she continued.
Hansford is looking for interns and volunteers from Howard University to assist the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent. Please contact the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman